"America's Toughest Sheriff"? The cowardly wind bag ran away from a choir! -KB
The notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, AZ was invited to be interviewed by professional journalists as part of an event at the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism this last Monday, and was disrupted by protesters singing the "Immigration Rhapsody", to the tune of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen.
How do you… just kill a man,
Let him wither on his route,
Criminalized and shut out,
How do you… detain someone,
Because you perceive a threat to your privilege?
Caused folks to lose their land
Just so the rich could profit off the outcome
Limit choice, lower pay, as if their lives don’t matter...
Freedom ooo- (any way the migrants flow)
Without walls and jails,
What does it take for freedom to ring for all? Read it all...
Although we did not plan ultimately to stop the event, Arpaio decided to walk off stage with 12 minutes left of the forum. Faced with hard questions, he seemed to be looking for an excuse to leave as he quickly decided to give up because we were not being removed or silenced.
A disruption was expected by many, with various articles reporting on the planned protests, the decision to limit the public event to students, faculty and staff (which excluded some of our singers- but those of us with old IDs got in no problem), and the stationing of uniformed and plain clothes police throughout the building and outside. The protest outside was lively and eventually, due to some anarchists, made its way into the building, occupying it for an impromptu Haymarket Squares show. Inside the event, while the interview was still going on, various protesters held signs and two banners were dropped, eliciting no response from Arpaio, nor police, but were impassioned nonetheless.
Although post-protest press was dominated by expressions of disappointment or disapproval about how the journalists were not allowed to finish asking their difficult questions of the sheriff, ultimately, Arpaio decided to leave. They could've all waited for the song to end (it was maybe 2 1/2 to 3 minutes long) and continued the event- extending it past 8pm (gasp), but that is not what happened. Instead, those of us who sang were blamed for ruining it.
There have been speculations that Arpaio wanted an excuse to take off early.
"I felt that the protesters were really out of place by not allowing the journalists to finish questioning him," said Gabrielle Abrams, a Cronkite student. "In protesting Arpaio, they helped him out by letting him leave 20 minutes early." (Source).Some felt that the journalists' questions were very important because they dug at some of the issues that make Arpaio so controversial. That might be true, at least from Arpaio's perspective. One must ask, where were the security and the police? There had been at least 4 plain clothes police officers (I'm guessing MCSO, but I don't know) near us, and at least two Phoenix PD community relations officers in the room, but none seemed to be around by the time we started singing. Arpaio certainly expected something, given that he brought a hat (apparently the U of A mascot hat was supposed to offend us) to put on in the case of a disruption. That man is prepared for anything.
Although many might feel the singing was inappropriate, some people have pointed out that Arpaio deserved to be shut down. He shouldn't have even been there in the first place. In addition, he was skirting the questions, not really giving any sort of straight answer to some very important questions. Although I myself was surprised by the blatant accusatory manner of the questions, I was still disappointed by the lack of accountability demanded of Arpaio, who manipulated his excuse for answers to avoid accountability.
From my perspective, though, the event itself was ridiculous. This man is a horrible monster- not worthy of any sort of respect, nor forum. Yet he's on the national news often, on the local news more, able to share his views on "illegals". Just a short list of reasons: tent city, deaths in the jails, horrible jail conditions in general, immigration sweeps, pink underwear, chain gangs, green baloney, etc, etc. To those who care about these issues, it is a joke and it is offensive that anyone would give him the time of day. He deserved to be offended, pissed off, and silenced. Had those of us who sang thought we could've gotten away with singing him off the stage, most or all of us probably would've started earlier with that intention.
Amusingly, I read articles and comments that expressed concern for the journalists and the journalism students, but very few were concerned about the disrespect shown towards Arpaio. Perhaps that'll piss him off a bit more.
We didn't expect to complete the entire song successfully (some people have been arrested by MCSO for clapping at a Board of Supervisors Meeting), so we weren't all that prepared for media questions and getting the message across. We had several copies of the lyrics to hand out to the media, yet very few came looking for us. They mostly went to interview Arpaio as he left through a different exit. We were around outside with the protest for quite a while after the event, available for interviews, and did engage in a handful, mostly with student journalists. The lyrics were up on a State Press article by the time I got home, and were also added to Arizona Indymedia, yet some mainstream articles reported that we sang the "Bohemian Rhapsody". You can hear clearly on the videos (there was a live feed going on) that we were not singing the original lyrics. You'd almost think those reporters didn't give a shit. Or maybe you know they don't.
This goes to show that despite this creative and audacious stunt, it is nearly impossible to get our position out in the mainstream press. Worse, although we know they have to fit a lot of important information into a short period of time, even Democracy Now! was rather cursory about our message (see video below). We weren't just taunting Sheriff Joe, we had a very clear message (well, clear if you saw the lyrics, which were sent to DN! that night, by the way). Even Stephen Lemons seemed to not quite get the point, "What I think many have forgotten in their rush to condemn the impish act of civil disobedience by a few is that there's a certain carny logic at work with any Joe show. That is, if you invite the circus to town, there will be clowns — one big clown, for sure."
We were trying to share a message that addresses issues like NAFTA, the purposeful criminalization of people, the disproportionate access to cross the border based on color/class/origin, etc. (limited by the number of syllables and verses of the original song). These are issues that the media does not want to deal with. The resistance to Sheriff Joe is something we want exposed and promoted, but the immigration issue is so much bigger than him.
It is worth noting that we are not just some random lefty students with a thing for pissing off Arpaio. In fact, at least three of us are no longer students at ASU. Our perspective doesn't represent the student body (I wish). We have a variety of experiences protesting, writing, copwatching. Some of us are anarchists as well. Overall the song was meant to express a radical view on the bigger picture.
People say we could've just protested outside, we could've done it afterwards, blah blah blah. But would that have gotten us the results we got? No (I've been protesting Arpaio for years- we need new tactics). And are the results we got good enough? Mostly no. The lyrics have gotten out to hundreds or maybe even thousands of people. Did they just reach sympathetic people? Maybe. And just people with internet access? Pretty much.
At least this singing is part of the escalating resistance to Sheriff Joe and his policies. It is an example of something creative that caused a ruckus without offending too many people (although we still apparently offended a good number who thought the performance was misplaced). There are many that we will never satisfy, even if they share a distaste for Arpaio. So we must be happy with what we can achieve. Plus it was fun and funny. The reality of the situation migrants face is not at all funny, but sometimes humor and music are good therapy for all the crap going on in the world.
Liberal [sic] Protesters Threaten Very Fabric of Society By Interrupting Sheriff Joe -Weekly Standard